Dream Gardens: Hedging bets on repairs06/29/2019
Sometimes the odd plant dies out or the entire bottom of the hedge goes bald due to drought, shade from adjacent shrubs, or when the hedge hasn’t been trimmed so the base is in shade from a shaggy top. But once the damage is done you can remedy the situation. Most people faced with a single hedge plant that dies take it out and replace it with a new one of the same type – but it’s not as successful as you’d think.
Putting a young 12in privet, conifer or whatever it may be into a gap in a 6ft-high hedge means it has to fight for light, water and nutrients and it won’t always win.
With a narrow gap, a far quicker solution is to cheat. Remove the dead plant, push in rustic poles and weave sideshoots from neighbouring plants through till they meet in the middle.
Another alternative is to remove the dead plant and put in a tree that grows above the hedge-line. It can become quite a feature.
If you have a geriatric hawthorn hedge with gaping holes, instead of pulling it all out and leaving the garden open while a new hedge grows, try something creative.
Cut it back to a suitable size, give it a billowy wind-sculpted shape, then bolster any gaps with wire netting and allow self-sown wild ivies (usually present in neglected old hedges) to scramble over the remaining structure of bare branches.
Within a few years they’ll cover the shape and smother the original hedge.
Wild ivy soon reaches a mature stage when growth slows down dramatically so only minor pruning is needed and it also produces flowers and berries that are brilliant for attracting birds.
Another alternative is to dig a trench a foot or so in front of it, fill this with compost and plant a row of contrasting shrubs that tolerate a bit of dry shade – evergreens such as euonymus or berberis “Bagatelle” for instance.
Kept clipped at about half the height of the main hedge, this produces the fashionable stepped, two-tier hedge.
You can be quite inventive but whatever you do is going to be cheaper and easier than replacing the entire hedge.
Show your true colours this summer
You can faff around with tricky plants if you like a challenge but most gardens rely on the copper bottomed stalwarts to offer reliable colour in summer.
And none are more dependable than penstemons.
We used to think that these luscious plants with their elegant spires of flowers were too tender to leave outside all year.
Nowadays, we know that most, if not as tough as old boots, can certainly match a stout pair of shoes.
Only the large-flowered types can be delicate in hard winters – the rest will come through unscathed.
The variety that used to be called Garnet and is now known as Andenken an Friedrich Hahn is well worth seeking out. It has those elegant, foxglove-like flowers of rich rosy crimson.
Sour Grapes has a name more easily remembered and is a mixture of blue, purple and grey, while Evelyn is a lovely rose pink.
Varieties range in colour from deepest purple through crimson, blue and pink to pure white.
Plant in a sunny position in well-drained soil as they are not wild about winter wet. Find a spot where they are happy and they will flower non-stop from June until October.
Don’t cut plants back until March, leaving all the stems on during the winter to offer frost protection and add a thick mulch for good measure.
Come spring, the plants can be cut back to within a few inches of ground level and new shoots will spring into life.
Penstemons last a good three years before they start to go over the hill. Cuttings root easily in sandy compost from May to September.
I’d plant them out in spring rather than autumn and they will flower generously in their first summer.
For more information on gardening and other subjects go to Alan Titchmarsh’s website: www.alantitchmarsh.com
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